Asia-Pacific’s Leading Disruptors 2019: Australia

FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption across the region. We start with Australia.

In line with our mission to shed light on the many investment opportunities popping up across Asia and Australasia, FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption in different countries and across a range of sectors.

Their companies range in size and maturity, but these people share a common drive and vision to compete against established institutions, whether in financial services, retail, energy, robotics, or logistics, to name just a few of the industries featured.

Following our methodology, we have selected five entrepreneurs from each of Asia Pacific's largest economies. In alphabetical order, we start this series in Australia.


Despite its geographic isolation, Australia is making a name for itself as a hub of tech startup activity. Last year more than $899 million in venture capital was invested into the nation’s startup ecosystem.

Government policy has hindered, not helped. For the most part, Australian entrepreneurs have rebounded from a dearth of new hires following the removal of the 457 visa for skilled overseas workers in 2017. But the full effects of a cut in April this year to the nation’s research and development budget – a loss of nearly $1 billion – will not be so easy to overcome.


Company: Canva

Headquarters: Sydney

Year founded: 2013

Industry: Design

Prominent backers: Felicis Ventures, Sequoia Capital

Perkins developed Canva as a BA student at the University of Western Australia. Seeing classmates struggle with layout and composition, she set out to develop a simple design tool for everyone.

“We’ve taken a process that was really complicated and opened it up to the world,” Perkins told FinanceAsia. “So people with absolutely no formal design experience could, all of a sudden, create something great.”

The entrepreneur co-founded the startup in 2013 with her then-boyfriend and now-fiancé Cliff Obrecht, who is also Canva’s chief technology officer. They boast more than 15 million users in 190 countries.

Canva is used by professionals and non-professionals alike to make menus, newsletters, flyers, website headers and more. The company has raised more than $140 million to date and is valued at $2.5 billion. 

Perkins leads the second Aussie startup to reach unicorn status. Her product has attracted a highly eclectic group of backers ranging from actors Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson to venture capital groups Sequoia Capital and Blackbird Ventures.


Company: Afterpay Touch

Headquarters: Melbourne

Year founded: 2014

Industry: Payments

Prominent backers: Matrix Partners, Mercantile Investment Company

Molnar has a critical role in the expansion of Australia’s buy now, pay later sector. He founded Afterpay in 2014, before merging with Touchcorps in 2017 to create Afterpay Touch.

The company caters to consumers in their 20s and 30s who can immediately purchase goods using the service and settle their debts in future instalments.

Molnar’s entrepreneurial journey started while a business student at the University of Sydney. He sold jewellery on eBay from his bedroom and turned a tidy profit before entering the workforce as an investment banker. The lessons he learned from these experiences formed the backbone of Afterpay.

“When I was building Afterpay, I believed that if I could drive mass Millennial adoption, it would drive mainstream adoption,” Molnar said during his 2017 TedX speech in Sydney.

This segment of shoppers accounts for almost a third of the global population, according to Bloomberg analysis of UN data, which means that Afterpay is well-positioned to capitalise on their increasing spending power.

The Australian unicorn reached 5 million users in August. More than half are overseas customers in Britain and the US where Afterpay partnered with Visa to acquire new merchants.

Notable merchants include corner store chain 7-Eleven and telecom giant Optus, as well as trendy fashion retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.

Sales made through the service virtually doubled in the last year, from $1.49 billion to $2.96 billion, and Molnar plans to bring the business model to healthcare, travel and ticketing.


Company: Flamingo AI

Headquarters: Sydney, Hartford, CT.

Year founded: 2014

Industry: Technology

Prominent backers: Breakthrough Labs

Wallace is the founder and chief executive of Flamingo AI, a developer of virtual assistance technology. She spent most of her career consulting on tech and customer experience and is a mother of five.

Her achievements in the past 12 months include being named among the Top 9 Female Entrepreneurs by the Sydney Morning Herald and winning the title of Most Influential Woman in Business & Entrepreneurship by the Australian Financial Review.

Wallace also founded Ventura, one of the first women’s co-working spaces in Australia, to support female entrepreneurs and businesswomen.


Company: Airwallex

Headquarters: Melbourne, Hong Kong

Year founded: 2015

Industry: Payments, Banking

Prominent backers: DST Global, Tencent

Liu is the president of payments fintech startup Airwallex, which she co-founded in 2015. Airwallex saw success immediately and Liu was part of the 2017 Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30 cohort.

The company, which hit unicorn status earlier this year, provides flat-fee foreign exchange services for small businesses, alongside other payment offerings.

The University of Melbourne finance graduate and her co-founders developed the idea for Airwallex after struggling to import supplies from China for their coffee shop business. The cafe – Tukk and Co. – continues to thrive in Melbourne.


Company: Atlassian

Headquarters: Sydney

Year founded: 2002

Industry: Technology

Prominent backers: Accel, Dragoneer Investment Group

Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar are the founders – and co-CEOs – of collaborative tools developer Atlassian. The company is named after Atlas, the titan from Greek mythology condemned by Zeus to hold up the skies for eternity.

The co-founders were classmates at the University of New South Wales and initially launched the company so they wouldn’t need to work for anyone else. They have been dubbed the accidental billionaires, but their success is undeniable. 

The duo was named Australian IT Professional of the Year in 2004 and shared the 2006 Australian Entrepreneur of the Year award. In a series of firsts, Atlassian topped 150,000 customers globally and earned more than $1 billion in revenue in 2019.


When building this list, we sought entrepreneurs across all sectors who are disrupting their chosen industry with new ideas and technology. 

Companies reflect the values and aspirations of the people who build them. And in many cases, we found technology and industry heirs striking out independently. Far from following in their parents' footsteps, they are forging new paths and establishing reputations as entrepreneurs in their own right.

FinanceAsia celebrates these second-generation entrepreneurs for their innovative spirit and ambition to break new ground.

And because of the importance we place on gender equality in the workplace, we also celebrate the many businesswomen who are increasingly thriving in this traditionally male-dominated space.


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